My mom died from lymphoma just after I turned nine years old. The next few years were, as you can imagine, really difficult. Moms are important to boys that age, and I was no exception. After she died, I had access to a small trunk that contained some of her belongings: yearbooks, jewelry, pictures, and various odds and ends from high school. As I was sifting through that stuff, I also found a diary that she kept while she was in the hospital.
Reading through that diary helped me to understand some of the history of her sickness, what she went through, and what she was feeling during those times. But the most important thing it helped me to understand was how much she loved me. Her diary had comments about my baseball games and other things that I was doing and how she felt while I was doing those things. Her thoughts always communicated how much she wanted to encourage me and for me to be confident in myself. It was clear that she was my biggest fan and that she loved me dearly. It’s hard to overstate how much that meant to a nine-year-old boy who was never going to see his mother again.
But there was one other thing that struck a chord with me then and now: she knew she might not survive the cancer, and she was devastated by the idea that she might not get to watch me grow up. It was one of her greatest fears, and I suspect that, apart from losing our kids, it’s the greatest fear of most parents. Like most parents, being the father to my kids is my greatest honor and greatest joy. I love them deeply and cannot imagine not being with them as they walk through life; not just for them, but for me.
Realizing how much my mom feared not being able to watch me grow up communicated the depth of her love for me. It gave me more confidence, more peace, and it helped to heal hurts inside me. It made me sad that she wasn’t here, but it has always strengthened me inside.
After my mom died, my father made a point to help me understand and be secure in how much my mom loved me and wanted more than anything to watch me grow up. Those assurances were essential to coping with the grief, but they weren’t nearly as significant or as impactful as having read it myself in her diary.
That brings me to today’s point: our kids need to understand how much we love them and are proud of them. They need to know that they are the joy of our hearts. They don’t need to be spoiled. They don’t need to have theirs whims catered to. They don’t need to be the center of our attention or the center of the family’s plans (see this post for further discussion). But they need to know, deep in their hearts, that they are loved and esteemed by us.
Obviously, this must be communicated by our words and actions on a daily basis. But today I’m encouraging you to do something extra: keep a journal for your children and make it about them. On a regular basis, make an entry about what’s going on with them and the family, what they’ve been doing, and what thoughts you’ve been having about them, making sure to underscore how special they are to you. I started doing this when in 2012, when my oldest son was six. I created a Word document for each child and would add to it every so often with thoughts I was having about them. I started it because I wanted to make sure that, if something happened to me, they’d have their father’s thoughts about them in black and white, never to be forgotten.
I don’t make entries as regularly as I should, but I’m still making them. A good practice would be to make an entry after every school year or at every birthday. That makes it a regular occurrence and is at a time of reflection on the growth of the past year. But feel free to be creative and do it however you think best. I mentioned that I use a Word document, but using a real journal with handwritten entries would likely make it even more special (unless your writing really sucks). The only goal is to provide a record that demonstrates your love for your kids that they can look back on when you’re gone. It would be especially meaningful in the event that you are taken before they are grown, but it will be meaningful for them even if they don’t read it until they are older.
Keeping a journal for kids will never substitute for providing consistent love, care, support, and encouragement over the days, weeks, months, and years of their lives, but it can have a significant impact in reaffirming to them what’s in your heart, especially when you’re no longer around to tell them or show them. I cannot put a value on the meaning that my mom’s diary entries gave to me. It is my hope that my children find similar value in my writings to them. And it is my hope that they don’t need to read them until they have children or grandchildren of their own. This is the man’s life.
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